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Remembering our comrade and friend Maxwell ‘Iwaki’ Haywood

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by the SVG Diaspora Committee of New York Inc.

Maxwell “Iwaki” Haywood, regarded as a true Vincentian patriot and stalwart in the progressive movement in St Vincent and the Grenadines, its Diaspora and the wider Caribbean-American community, will long be remembered for his contributions to the Vincentian community. Three years on from his passing on November 29, 2017, the SVG Diaspora Committee of New York Inc., which he founded in 2010, continues to reflect on and celebrate his life and legacy.

Born on December 13, 1963 to parents Olive Lampkin John and Charles Haywood of New Grounds in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Maxwell distinguished himself early as an athlete, poet, dramatist, musician and community organizer. He participated in cricket, soccer and track and field, and though never donning national SVG colours, he was a fierce competitor at the community and school levels. At the high school and collegiate levels in the USA, he was on winning division teams for Sheepshead Bay High School and Kingsborough Community College. He was also involved with the Caribbean Students Association at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the student activism, which led to the restoration of senior college status and state funding to CUNY’s lone Predominantly Black Institution Medgar Evers College in the late 1980s. After graduating Medgar Evers College and The New School University in NY, he would go on to spend a 25-year career with the United Nations, working on issues such as drug control, poverty eradication, youth, education, NGOs and cooperatives. He ended his career as the Focal Point for the United Nations Programme on the Cooperative Enterprise Model of Development in the Division for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). As a professed Socialist and Pan Africanist, he cherished this role which allowed him to advance and promote the ideals of cooperative economics for the upliftment of the world’s most vulnerable populations. On his final mission to Brazil in March 2017, two months shy of a stage-4 cancer diagnosis which eventually ended his life, he presented at an International Cooperatives Forum where he was heralded as a champion of the cooperative movement.

Maxwell, who grew up in the rural village of New Grounds on the Windward side of mainland St Vincent was well acquainted with the plight of oppressed peoples. He was introduced to liberation struggles by persons like the late Oscar Allen and Earlene Horne, who were positive influences in his early life. Before migrating to the United States in the early 1980s, he was a member of YULIMO, the youth arm of the United Peoples’ Movement (UPM), and later in the United States he was an active member of SVG Progressive League, a support group of the UPM, and other organizations focused on the struggles of the working class and poor. These afforded him opportunities to deepen his studies of liberation struggles and community activism, and to represent the United States at an International Youth Conference in Moscow, USSR in 1985.

But Maxwell’s best known contribution to the Vincentian and Caribbean communities was as a community organizer, and contributing voice to the newspapers and radio. He regularly commented on social, political and cultural issues on the landscape of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean. He garnered an enthusiastic base of readers and listeners who looked forward to his data-rich and well-researched contributions. Maxwell left behind a 200-page unfinished collection of writings, which he was preparing for publication. This is a project his family has promised to complete.

Maxwell was also instrumental in the formation of the Council of St Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations (COSAGO), and later the SVG Diaspora Committee of New York Inc, an out-growth of the 2009 Vincy Homecoming Conference, of which he played a vital organizing role and was the lead author on the outcome document of the conference “A Framework for Action,” which immortalized the ideas emanating from the SVG Homecoming Conference and lives on as a blueprint for diaspora engagement with the homeland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (http://www.svgdiasporacommittee.org/awareness-raising-and-policy.html). He was considered by many as an intellectual giant, with a humble spirit deeply rooted in his Africaness and beliefs in human rights and dignity of all people, and was a major mover and shaker in the Vincentian Diaspora community. He served on numerous committees focusing on organizational capacity-building, culture, sports and disaster relief work.

However, his most dynamic involvement was with the SVG Diaspora Committee of NY Inc., which under his leadership led to the hosting of numerous activities including the SVG Diaspora and Development Conference in 2012, which brought government, business and civil society leaders together to dialogue on partnerships for development. The organization also hosted numerous forums focused on culture, sports, youth, women, business and unity in the Vincentian community, and birthed two affiliate entities the Cultural Association of Vincentians in the USA (CAVUSA) and SVG-USA Sports Association (SVGUSASA). While the latter entities have experienced ebb and flow since Maxwell’s passing, they still exist, though not as robustly.

The Diaspora Committee however continues to thrive and remains active in the Vincentian Diaspora community, hosting recent events such as the SVG Diaspora Heritage Awards, and virtual forums focused on the US Census and mental health. The committee also established the Maxwell Haywood Scholarship and Development Fund, which was launched with the hosting of a public lecture in New York City by Chief Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, on ‘The Role of the CCJ in furthering the Caribbean Civilization’. The fund also sponsors two secondary school scholarships for students in SVG.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has curtailed many planned activities during 2020, the SVG Diaspora Committee of NY Inc. pledges to carry on the legacy and memory of Maxwell ‘Iwaki’ Haywood, who in his last speech to the Vincentian community in April 2017 urged the community to work in unity and forge greater partnerships to ensure the continued growth and development of the Vincentian Diaspora and the homeland. The committee looks forward to advancing this cause well beyond 2020.

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